We don’t usually think much about our eye color. Many people favor blue eyes, and some of us may try contacts to change our eye color if we aren’t happy with what we’ve got. Regardless, eye color rarely comes across as a possible health indicator.
However, there may be more to eye color than simply visual aesthetic. In fact, a new study has uncovered that having certain eye color may be associated with a higher risk of cancer.
Eye color linked to cancer risk
The study found that individuals with blue, grey, or green eyes, and fair skin are more likely to develop eye cancer than those with brown eyes. The increased risk is linked to pigmentation genes that determine eye color.
The risk of eye cancer among those with lighter eye color is more common in people over the age of 50. Furthermore, persons with a mutation of the BAP1 gene are at a greater risk for eye or skin cancer, compared to those without the gene variant.
Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, assistant professor at Ohio State University, said, “This is a very important discovery that will guide future research efforts to explore the interactions of these pigmentary genes with other genetic and environmental risk factors in cancers not linked to sun exposure, such as eye melanoma. This could provide a paradigm shift in the field. Our study suggests that in eye melanoma the pigmentation difference may play a direct cancer-driving role, not related to sunlight protection.”
There is a well-known association between eye and skin cancer, so the researchers aimed to uncover a genetic link. They explored 29 inherited gene mutations that were previously linked to skin cancer to determine a possible connection to eye cancer.
The researchers found five genetic mutations that were associated with eye cancer, and the three most significant ones were associated with eye color.
Coauthor assistant professor Dr. Tomas Kirchhoff of NYU School of Medicine said, “Genetic susceptibility to uveal melanoma has been traditionally thought to be restricted only to a small groups of patients with family history. Now our strong data shows the presence of novel genetic risk factors associated with this disease in a general population of uveal melanoma patients. But this data is also important because it indicates – for the first time – that there is a shared genetic susceptibility to both skin and uveal melanoma mediated by genetic determination of eye color. This knowledge may have direct implications in the deeper molecular understanding of both diseases.”
Dr. Kirchhoff concluded, “This has important consequences not only for the prevention or early diagnosis of the disease but potentially for more improved therapies for at-risk patients.”